On the morning of February 3, 1983, the Americus and Altair, two state-of-the-art crabbing vessels, idled at the dock in their home port of Anacortes, Washington. On deck, the fourteen crewmen--fathers, sons, brothers and friends who'd known one another all their lives--prepared for the ten-day trip to Dutch Harbor, Alaska. From this rough-and-tumble seaport the men would begin a grueling three-month season in one of the nation's most profitable and deadliest occupations--fishing for crab in the notorious Bering Sea. Standing on the Anacortes dock that morning, the families and friends of the crew knew that in the wake of the previous year's multimillion-dollar losses, the pressure for this voyage was unusually intense.
Eleven days later, on Valentine's Day, the overturned hull of the Americus was found drifting in calm seas only twenty-five miles from Dutch Harbor, without a single distress call or trace of its seven-man crew. The Altair, its sister ship, had disappeared altogether; in the desperate search that followed, no evidence of the vessel or its crew would ever be found. The nature of the disaster--fourteen men and two vessels,apparently lost within hours of each other--made it the worst on record in the history of U.S. commercial fishing.
Delving into the mysterious tragedy of the Americus and Altair, acclaimed journalist Patrick Dillon vivifies the eighty-knot winds, subzero temperatures, and mountainous waves commercial fishermen fight daily to make their living, and illustrates the incredible rise of the Pacific Northwest's ocean frontier: from a father-and-son business to a dangerously competitive multibillion-dollar high-tech industry with one of the highest death rates in the nation. Here Dillon explores the lives the disaster left behind in Anacortes: the ambitious young entrepreneur who raised the top-notch fleet in a few short years, the guilt-ridden captains of the surviving sister boats, and the grief-numbed families of the crew. Tracing the two-year investigation launched by the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board, he brings to life a heated cast of opponents: ingenious scientists, defensive marine architects, blue-chip lawyers and wrangling politicians, all struggling to come to terms with the puzzling death of fourteen men at sea. And finally, in his evocation of one mother's crusade to pass the safety legislation that might save lives, Dillon creates a moving portrait of courage and love.
The Wall Street Journal recently noted that last year "commercial fishing lost its place as the most dangerous occupation." If so, part of the reason must be traced back 15 years to February 14, 1983, when 14 men from the town of Anacortes, Wash., were lost in the Bering Sea. Sailing on the Americus and Altair, two of the most high-tech crabbing vessels of the time, and confident of fairly calm waters, they disappeared without even an SOS. Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and columnist Dillon brings his perceptive journalism skills to reconstructing the lives of the fishermen and their families and motivations--from the need to strike out for more dangerous fishing grounds, because those closer to home were depleted, to simple greed. The residents of Anacortes clearly knew the dangers--an obelisk in the harbor is inscribed with 96 names of fishermen lost over the last 50 years, more than three times the number listed on the memorial to casualties of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Dillon spent time with the families and followed both the subsequent investigation and the efforts to enact and enforce regulations. His prose is more poetic than incisive: At a basketball game at the high school, "the news came in like a draft under the door. When it reached the bleachers, each row stirred in succession, people bent like grass.... They stood, stunned, their faces frozen...trying to conceal their terror." This is a story of individuals, but it is also the story of an old, traditional industry pushed farther and farther offshore by heavy demand from top restaurants paying high prices. Author tour to the Northwest and Alaska.